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Joint Responsibility Needed For Health And Safety

Media release 21 October 2002

Joint Responsibility Needed For Health And Safety

The Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill that was reported from select committee today underlines the importance of everyone taking responsibility for health and safety, says Business NZ.

Business NZ, on behalf of and with its associated regional business associations, made significant representations to endeavour to change some parts of the Bill that were considered unworkable.

Executive Director Anne Knowles says the resultant changes - regarding definitions, employee participation, volunteers and other matters - are heartening.

"The emphasis should be on creating a culture where everyone takes responsibility for health and safety, and some of the changes to the Bill reflect and support this.

"Provisions relating to stress are an example. Although this remains an area of huge concern to employers as to how they can be expected to manage such a subjective issue, at least the obligation now falls on the employer only if he or she 'knows or ought reasonably to know' about a stressed employee. This puts an obligation on the employee to keep the employer informed about specific factors that an employer can control, and it puts an obligation on the employer to deal with such matters in performance appraisals, for example.

"Provisions relating to employee participation systems are another example. It is recognised that many workplaces have such systems currently and the legislation now allows them to continue.

"While joint responsibility is recognised, the Bill also confirms the employer's right to manage. We welcome the fact that fatigue has been recognised as only one of a number of reasons for impaired performance. Allowing the definition of 'hazard' to include behaviour related to drugs and alcohol makes explicit the employer's right to manage in such situations.

"Business NZ is disappointed that the level of fines remains high, but pleased that the flat rate for infringement fines regardless of size of enterprise or severity of offence has, following our representations, been changed to a range of fines between $100 and $4,000 which better recognises the range of relevant factors.

"There is no room for politicising health and safety. The select committee has noted concerns about potential politicisation by union involvement in employee participation and prosecution systems but has offered no safeguards against misuse of these systems. The potential for misuse therefore still exists, and Business NZ will be closely monitoring this.

"It is a matter of major concern that employers will still be prohibited from insuring against fines under the Act. This has to be an ideological rather than pragmatic move. The Government seems unwilling to accept the fact that managing risk in this area is a justifiable and prudent course of action that ultimately protects both employees and employers."

Anne Knowles said parallels could be drawn between this Bill, and the Employment Relations Bill during its passage through Parliament in 2000.

"The business community went out on a limb in the winter of 2000, highlighting the problems the Employment Relations Bill would cause if passed in unmodified form. It was necessary to speak up strongly and as a result many of the provisions of the Bill potentially crippling to business were dropped.

"A similar course of action has occurred with the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill. Again, business has spoken out against the impractical and 'political' fishhooks in this Bill. The Government has listened and while some major difficulties remain, employers will note the quite significant changes from the original Bill.

"Business will continue to monitor implementation of the legislation, particularly in relation to how stress is dealt with by OSH. There is no basis for routine blaming of employers for all accidents regardless of cause - a regrettable and unwarranted feature of recent dialogue on this subject."

Ms Knowles has just returned from an ILO working party in Geneva, where she is the world employer representative for an initiative to consolidate and upgrade international health and safety standards.

"It is clear that employers the world over take health and safety issues very seriously and are actively engaged in the process of improving health and safety outcomes for everyone in the workplace," Ms Knowles said.

"The debate in New Zealand on health and safety issues will be ongoing. There will never be a last word on the subject, however shared responsibility by everyone for health and safety will, over time, prove a positive step."


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